TEXT OF STORY
Tess Vigeland: The economy has officially gone to the dogs. According to market research firm Information Resources, Inc., retail spending on hotdogs was up two and a half percent in 2008. So, we decided to go to the epicenter of hot dog culture, Chicago, for a look at the link as economic indicator. For Marketplace, Chicago Public Radio's Adriene Hill has the story.
Adriene Hill: Chicago loves its hotdogs.
Gus Paschalis: A Chicago hot dog is an all beef hotdog on a poppy seed bun, and there's mustard, onions, relish, pickle, there's sport peppers, tomato and celery salt.
That's Gus Paschalis. He owns and runs a hotdog stand called, I kid you not, "Weiner and Still Champion" in nearby Evanston.
Paschalis: Most people would say a hole in the wall, mom and pop type of restaurant.
It's definitely a little divey. But you can get a dog and hand cut french fries that are fried to order for $3.50. Not bad for a meal that contains most of the major food groups. Turns out the Chicago dog has a good "pedigree" for surviving tough times.
The Chicago style hotdog, loaded with veggies and condiments, got started back during the late 1920s. You could get your meal on a bun for a nickel. At least one hotdog stand called it a "depression sandwich." And while it may be overselling it a little to say sales now are "steaming" or "red hot," these days at Weiner and Still Champion, they're good.
Paschalis: We're actually doing better than we were doing last year.
The dinner time rush is pretty impressive for a hotdog stand. Melody Vogel's waiting on an order of french fries. She says she still has a job -- she works at a nearby church -- but she's more careful about how she spends money on food.
Melody Vogel: I'm trying to be a lot more conservative in what I buy. You know, I grew up in a big family so I'm used to the make spaghetti and eat it for a week kind of stuff -- make soup and add water.
She eats out less and she's more likely to go for cheaper options when she does eat out.
Darren Tristano: Consumers are trading down. Rather than going to, let's say, casual dining like an Applebees and paying at the $12-$13 level, they're shifting down to limited service.
Darren Tristano is an executive vice president at Technomic Incorporated, a food industry research firm.
He says hotdog stands are set to capitalize on food trends -- they're cheap, the food is fresh, customizable, portable, and he says, Chicago hot dogs taste really good.
All of which makes them a strong contender for a great recession meal.
In Chicago, I'm Adriene Hill, for Marketplace Money.